Let’s talk about the state of mental health in New Zealand

This morning I fell asleep at around 2.30 and woke up at 7. This isn’t uncommon, I’ve never really had a regular sleep routine. But this morning it was like the bags under my eyes were so heavy, I could feel them. When I looked at my reflection in my window, it was like a zombie version of myself stared aimlessly back at me. Pale skin and dark circles around my eyes. I looked like hell.

But I couldn’t feel anything. I wasn’t tired, I didn’t “feel depressed”, I didn’t feel anything. I crawled back under my blankets and closed my eyes. The only thing I wanted was to go back to sleep. I was supposed to be in class today at 9am, but there was no point in forcing myself to go. I wouldn’t have been able to focus, I wouldn’t have been able to give constructive feedback to my classmates and I sure as hell did not want to share the poem I wrote last night.

Yesterday was a bit of a rollercoaster. Not something uncommon for people who suffer with depression. I was fine and laughing along with my classmates one moment, and being snappy and irritable the next. I had also had my first meeting with the community mental health team that morning. And from what I understand, it’s likely to be my last.

Most people will experience depression at least once in their lifetime. It can be brought on by the loss of a loved one, unemployment, alcohol and drug addictions, and loads of other factors. But for some people, however, it is a never-ending battle with a silent and invisible enemy. For me, depression comes in waves. Some are little tiny waves, some you can surf back to the shore on and others are downright 8ft tsunamis set to destroy.

My first “episode” was when I was around 10/11 years old. I was living in Germany with my family at the time and I remember feeling lost all the time. I eventually retreated to my room and only came out when it was necessary. I don’t remember how long the first episode lasted, to be honest, I’ve had so many since and they have all varied in time and intensity. I don’t try to track the record anymore.

I am just one of 582,000 adults in New Zealand who suffer with a mental health disorder. My one experience, is just that, one experience. Everyone else has their own story, journey and experiences with their mental health issues. The most common type of mental illness in New Zealand are the mood disorders, such as depression, bipolar and anxiety. But there are other illnesses such as schizophrenia, personality disorders and psychotic disorders that also rule their own personal hells, and the worst part is is that there isn’t enough help out there for all of us.

Six weeks spent waiting for my appointment because of the backlog, I sat down with the psychologist and the psychiatrist (in training) and I talked about my history with depression and the earthquake, and the psychological impact that the event and the aftermath had on me. I also listened to them talk about this thing called “criteria” and if I match it then I may be “eligible to access their services”. Don’t get me wrong, these two women were amazing, caring, and understanding, but their hands are tied by a system that doesn’t work.

I can’t say that I didn’t match their criteria because I won’t find out until tomorrow, but I’m pretty sure I don’t. To be eligible for mental health care that is funded by the Ministry of Health you have to be deemed moderate to severe in terms of risk to yourself (suicide) and/or others (murder/assault). Which I found odd because I can literally go to A&E for a head cold, and although I would be clogging up with the system with something so petty, I’ll still be seen and possibly given a prescription for paracetamol. That system is paid for by the tax payer. But what do you do when the illness is invisible?

The psychologist and I talked about my isolation, how I lock myself away in my room and fall into these catatonic states for a day or two, about my extensive history with self harm and the hopelessness that comes with it all. I mentioned that the frequency and intensity in which I go through the episodes has changed since the earthquake. Prior to the quake I was active, interested in life and doing different things. Now I’m stuck in a hole and I don’t know how to get out. But because I don’t have plans to kill myself, I’m not really worth spending the public funding on.

That is the reason New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Because as if the social stigma against mental illness wasn’t bad enough, our own representative ministry doesn’t see a problem. In fact, just this morning I was reading an article about a 29 year old man committed suicide four hours after he had been deemed “not-at-risk”. It was not the first time the man tried to get help. His mother called for an independent inquiry into mental health, but the health minister responded saying: “I don’t agree there is a need for a review.”

Except, when you look at our country’s mental health and suicide statistics, you can clearly see that there actually is a need for a review. And those are just statistics, just imagine all the cases that haven’t been reported, and people who have never gotten help for their mental health, because they either don’t have access or they “don’t meet the criteria”. Like I said earlier, most people will experience depression at least once. Regardless of the cause or even lack thereof, depression is still depression.

At least a couple of times a week I hear about someone killing themselves in this country. Whether that’s through word of mouth, or reading a stuff article about another youth suicide, or reading a comment on reddit. Remember Jono’s moment on live TV not so long ago about his friend that had committed suicide? It’s everywhere. And the health minister apparently thinks that’s normal/okay.

But it’s not. Suicide is usually preventable, with the right help before it gets to the point of suicide. Someone who has already made the decision that they’re going to end their life, is not the kind of person who is going to walk into a hospital or mental health clinic and talk to a professional about it.

There are things people with mental illnesses can do to make life manageable, but there needs to be someone there for them that helps life go beyond just simply coping. When people need help, they need someone there that they can talk to and not feel judged for it. Yes there are helplines, facebook pages and websites people can go to for information, but there needs to be a solid support system for them. Friends and family can help to a certain degree, but those people have their own lives with their own troubles, too.

So I disagree with the health minister. I think we do need a review, and we need to change the way we treat people who suffer with mental health issues. There needs to be more public access to counselling and therapy services, especially for those who who have low income. These kinds of services are available for children and teenagers, but it seems as if once you legally become an adult, you’re on your own.

Above all this, we need to remove the stigma against having a mental illness. The best way to do this is to provide more information. I was sitting in the waiting room for my GP appointment a couple of months ago, and I couldn’t help but notice there wasn’t a single pamphlet on mental health on their board. And what about schools? What are they teaching the kids of today about mental health? Are they teaching the kids about mental health? I don’t remember being taught about mental illnesses and how to identify symptoms and manage.

Something seriously needs to be done, and it needs to start now. It’ll be interesting now with the elections coming up, and all the politicians that’ll be taking to reddit for their AMAs. I have a few questions for them. I encourage others to get vocal about it, too. Numbers = Power.

Lifeline – 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (8am to midnight) – 0800 111 757

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Youthline (open 24/7) – 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz

0800 WHATSUP children’s helpline – phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.



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